Last year I took part in a 24-hour endurance running event called, rather appropriately, Endure24. My Sunday running group, the Village Idiots, entered as a team of seven, the weather was glorious and we basically enjoyed a 24-hour picnic in a field in Berkshire interspersed by occasional five-mile runs. My own contribution to the proceedings was five laps, that’s 25 miles, and I was frankly quite chuffed with that. So, the question is, when registration opened for the 2014 event in August 2013 how did I find myself signing up as part of a mixed pair? How do you go from thinking that being part of a team of seven is the best way to run a 24-hour endurance relay to a team of two? Mr B – a fellow Idiot – and I felt that we really could have run a bit more than our 25 miles, but we didn’t want to go totally mad and step up to the solo event, so we agreed that as the “Gruesome Twosome” we could put in more laps without the added pressure of competing individually. That’s some crazy runners’ logic for you.
Due to an admin error we would be joined only by D, who had registered as a solo male. The rest of the Idiots had failed to register a team in time for what is turning into an incredibly popular event. Thankfully though, Mrs B and Big Sis decided to join us as race support crew instead, with a couple of bottles of wine stashed away for the evening session. I was a little envious.
We sent the boys out on Friday to select prime locations for the tents: one in the special solo area next to the start line for D and one to serve as race HQ slightly further away from the race area. The second would be somewhere for everyone to hide in when the torrential rain struck. The moral of the story for any race organiser surely must be, don’t plan a 24-hour outdoor event on Glastonbury weekend!
We were ready for the weather though and thankfully when the first rumbles of thunder echoed overhead the tent was already fully prepped, the snacks were out, the kettle was on and we were able to shelter inside as lightning flashed around the Wasing Park Estate, briefly knocking out the speaker system and causing the organisers to do some additional safety checks before the off.
We had a plan, we would do two laps at a time, sets of ten miles rather than five, interspersed with rest stops of between 90 minutes and two hours. If we could do five sets a piece we would be delighted. Rain was hammering down out of a very angry sky as Mr B walked over to the start. At just past 12 pm on Saturday 28 June we were finally off. Well, Mr B was. I had another two hours to wait before I had to get my running socks on.
As he completed his first lap, he looked strong, exceptionally wet and muddy, but strong. When he finished his second he handed me the wristband (which served as the baton) with a smile and off I went.
Lap one seemed longer than I remembered from last year, but they count the distance in km rather than miles so it oddly seems further. In 2013 there had been a big dogleg in the camping area at the end but I guess in order to fit more tents in they had transferred this to the middle of the course. The new bit was a tight, potentially boggy trail section that would certainly be exciting during the hours of darkness.
Doing two laps instead of one was definitely more challenging. I had to remind myself to take it easy, that I needed to retain some energy for the second lap. I probably ran those first two laps quicker than I should have, but as I handed back over to Mr B, I felt pretty good.
As he came round to finish his third, Mr B understandably looked a little more tired than he had after his second and when he came in having finished his fourth there was a quick team talk about dropping back down to a lap at a time. Running my third I could feel it too. Two laps every time was going to be too much. Halfway through my fourth I suddenly felt really hungry and found myself dreaming about what I might eat during my next break.
When I reached the start/finish line I was unexpectedly herded into the pit stop (D’s solo area) by a super-efficient pit team of Big Sis and Mrs B. They handed me coffee, water and a pot of fruit and nuts and asked if I wanted to go round again, Mr B needed a rest. Well, so did I. I was already spent, 20 miles and only eight hours in. I said no, or words to that effect.
I made a strategic error, I had an hour in my lovely goose down sleeping bag. My head told me I didn’t want to go out again. Mr B put in another lap. I fought against my negative thoughts and changed into my third set of fresh kit and went out again, taking my head torch, it would be dark this time when I returned. It was raining, the trail was cut up massively, parts of it incredibly boggy. The puddles were huge, in between each puddle was a slippery mess. It was like Hellrunner, but dark, and thankfully without the Bog of Doom. Miraculously, I came back with a much more positive attitude than I had left with, ready to put in another one after Mr B’s next lap. He felt the same, out he went into the darkness.
Waiting for Mr B, I nearly talked myself out of it again, but when he came back I knew I couldn’t let him down, so out I trotted once again in change of clothing number four. It was very wet in places, a morass, a quagmire; I had plenty of time out there alone in the darkness to think of appropriate descriptive words. The trail was marked by glow sticks, with shelters decked in fairy lights at strategic points for the marshals and medics. There was also a fairy out there in the darkness. I think it was the photographer lady, all decked out in lights with a glowing wand, she obviously took her supportive role quite seriously.
We decided that considering the conditions it would make sense to have a break and get some kip. I finished lap six at about 1.20 am and wouldn’t go out again until nearly 6.00 am. I didn’t really sleep, by then I felt damp and horrible and although it wasn’t particularly noisy my body and mind weren’t feeling very restful.
On lap seven I could tell my body was tired. I sectioned out the route in my mind, talking myself through every stage. The first km started with a hill, I walked up it. I ran from the km marker to the next hill just before km three, which I walked up. I ran from there to the new dogleg, walking up a hill towards km four. There was a theme developing, walk the hills, run the flats. I reminded myself at the 4 km marker that I was now half way round; with every new step I was closer to the finish line. The stretch from four to five was mostly downhill and just after km five came the water stop. I took a cup and sipped it slowly as I walked up the hill, the one that had become ankle-deep in sludgy mud overnight. This was the last hill on the loop, once I had reached the top there was no excuse not to run again. Marker six was at a marshal’s tent and not long after that a downhill stretch led to the long, flat, wide path towards the race’s base. The final stretch in the field at the end was now very muddy, but in sight of everyone I couldn’t walk, I chose a better route than I had in the darkness and plodded on.
Mr B’s turn again. I wasn’t sure how much more I could actually “run”, but it was only about 8.30 am when Mr B returned, so off I went again, lap eight, 40 miles. Having reached his 40 miles, Mr B was done and I was again herded into the pit stop. D, who’d been out there on his own all that time, fighting his own demons far better than I, was going out again and Big Sis and Mrs B thought it might be nice if I joined him. This would take me up to 45 miles, there was definitely time and I was happy to accompany D as he reached mile 90.
As we left the field for the first hill a group of runners sat by the path stood and cheered. D had obviously made some fans on his Endure24 journey. Quite right too, having taken part as a pair in those conditions and having run further in one day than I had ever run before, by nearly 20 miles, I had a tiny inkling as to the mental and physical strength that D and the other solo athletes must possess to achieve what they do.
On that final lap we chatted about whether we should do any more. Frankly I didn’t want to, but if D had decided to go again I would have felt I should accompany him. He thought he could probably just fit in two more laps, taking him up to the 100, but he could also feel his body was on the edge of potential injury. The sensible decision would be to stop, to save himself for another day. Common sense ultimately prevailed and we crossed the line together, to commentary from the race organisers and cheers from D’s new legion of fans. After eating a veggie breakfast (me), collecting our medals and posing for the requisite photos, Endure24 was finally over for another year.
The question is, in what formation will the Idiots choose to fly next year?